tv Jared Cohen Accidental Presidents CSPAN May 12, 2019 4:20pm-5:25pm EDT
>> booktv coins. television for serious readers. [inaudible conversations] >> good evening, everybody. my name is catty willard and i'm part of the events staff here at politics and prose. i want to go over a few quick announcement. please silence your cellphones and other noisemaking devices. it's a courteous to the author but we're also on c-span tonight so you do not want to be the person whose phone goes off on
c-span. secondly, during our question and answer portion', the interest of video and audio reporting, if you could just come thin microphone by the white pillar so we can hear your questions and engage in a nice discussion, and lastly, once everything is done if you could please fold up your chairs and place them against something solely. our staff, as in me, would greatly appreciate that. tonight i'm pleased to introduce jared cohen, the founder and ceo of jigsaw alphabet inc. as well as an adjuncrt senior fellow at the council on foreign relations. "the new york times" best selling oauthor 0 with eric schmidt of the new digital age and has written the children of jihad. one of the great lessons of american politics that i've learned is tail of two -- tale of two brothers. one went off to sea and one
became vice president. neither was heard from ever again. however in rare case the vice president is not relegated to obscurity. namely when the president -- the prefer president dies. and his newest, best "new york times" best selling back, accidental presidents, cohen investigates these men. who ascended to the presidency because of these unfortunate circumstances. becoming president under the circumstances is often a thankless task and many hoover this men have disappointed rather than reassured, although several exceeded expectations. cohen delves into the implications the system of seeings and asking argues this limiteds reading to the constitution, one of which many americans take for garaged may not the be only way to handle succession. what at the, author of lee
understands dough divein should writes jared cohen treats to us colorful and momentous episodeness our history. he reveals the historic importance of some lesser known leaders and highlights the greatness of tr, truman and lyndon johnson. we learn why america is a resilient nation and our constitution a living document. lessons very powerful for today. please join me in walking jared cohen. >> thank you all very much for having me. i can't think of a better place to give a talk about this book than this incredible book store. when i lived in d.c. it was my absolute favorite miss to be some i love the backdrop of all these books. the place i want to start is why i wrote this book. think it's important context for somebody who spent the last eight years every single day as a technology ceo and before that four years working in foreign policy. so people ask me -- when when i
tell people i'm rhyming a book they say is it's book but sacre war? no, foreign policy? no. what's it about i said it's about dead presidents. and it's confusing to them. it's confusing to anybody unless you grew up with me. when is was eight my parents bought in the a children's book called the buck stops here. it was one of these wonderful rhyming books am different page for each president. as my warranted read to me, trying to transform me into a child they didn't realize they would have to have eight different conversations about death. and my poor parents, it was bad enough they don't know mckinley was, they had to explain to me why mckinley was keeled over in this cartoon, like picture. when you're an eight-year-old you have to degree with top yings lying death and assassination and my parents didn't figure outer what they had gotten themselves into. the interest sustained over time and when oliver stone came out with the film about kennedy's
assassination i decided to solve the kennedy assassination. so i annexed a room in our house and turned into it the kennedy room. and i put pictures and xerox copies of the zapruder footage and i had wild conspiracy theories, none of which i remember and that's deliberate. so the obsession and fascination got into presidential collecting and memorabilia and i have a strange subcollection of presidential locks of hard which is weird until you see it. it's quite fascinating. this has been a passion of mine my -- trust me, really is something. this has been an interest my entire life so i spend all day thinking about innovation and the future but i have this sort of growing itch to dig into the past. when my wife was pregnant with a oureddest daughter who is five years e nears old i needed a nesting project because i was annoying everything and i decided to write a book about
the eight times in history that a u.s. president died in office and how history was transformed by a heartbeat. and this history -- in addition to being something i'm deeply park not but, it resonates on so many different levels because we're in a time where everybody is look agent leadership qualities, fascination with politics, fascination with history but our history is also anchored around transitions that used to happen every ten to 20 years. most people are familiar with one or two presidents who died in office, most people are surprised there were eight. so, what i'm going to do today, not going through every single one of them because i have to leave you with some incentive to buy the book but i'll talk to you but the first time it happened and what the biggest catastrophe of the accidental transition who is think was the biggest and the most unexpected success and why and then talk to you through the close calls because in addition to eight presidents who died in office you had another 19 'owho nearly
died in office. and other of those 19 you nearly -- you have eight presidents who die in office, six of the eight presents who ascended to the presidency also nearly died in office, mostly through assassination attempts. so we'll get into that but want to whet your appetite a little bit. going back to the framersers ofe constitution who didn't want a vice president. they viewed as an electoral mechanism. and so naturally it's not something that they had thought about. given a little thought to presidential succession but if you look at article 2 in the constitution, what it says is in the event of the resignation of the president, death, or national to discharging duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the vice-president. the constitution is completely clear that in the case of a vacancy of the presidency, the vice president acts as president and discharges those duties. the constitution is not clear where the vice president becomes
the president. so, 1840, the famous catch phrase, tippy canoe and tyler, too propels william henry harrison, fame miss whig general into the white house. the whigs are so happy they finally got a president. he dies 30 days later, and despite the fact that history tells us he died of pneumonia it was later proven that bad sewer systems around the white house was likely responsible for his death later james polk's dater and zachary taylor's death but we'll save that for another gruesome lecture. so, john tyler, who was thrown on the tick, even though he was basically a democrat because the whigs needed to win virginia and needed somebody would good woo give a nod to state's rights, skips town after the inaguration. so when a messenger shows up at his house deliver the telegram the president is dead, john tyler who has in fact studied the constitution, understands the fight that's about to ensue
because he enter threats the constitution as he is now the president and he knows the cabinet will disagree and congress is going disagree. so he races back and very dramatic fashion, combination of horse and carriage, boat and train, and he proceeds to get into a fight with the cabinet. then spendded the first three michigansing oning with congress whether he his is he acting president or president. ultimatesly he wins the battle even though people send him mail dressed to him as vice president which he returns unopened, or at acting president, which he also returns enopened. but he -- unopened but the set the precedent. what is interesting is you don't have a mechanism for replacing the vice president of the united states until the 25th 25th amendments is ratified in 19. 67. so, you have john tyler as the nation's first accidental president. set a precedent that he is now president. now that precedent carries through lbj. lby becomes president upon the death of john f. kennedy based
on a precedent set by john tyler in 1841. so we have never had a situation where president has died in office and the 25th amendment has formally made them president. that only happens with nixon and ford and i'm shire somebody will ask me why i didn't include nixon, ford as a separate chapter, and at some point i'll give you -- beat you to the purpose and answer the question. recent to the vacancy of the vice president is on the other hand, john tyler is a disaster for the whig party because again he is basically a democrat. he doesn't subscribe to the whig agenda at all. like mose of the accidental presidents that came after him, he has a completely different set of policy views than his pred scissor and takes the country in a completely different direction. he was ostracized from the administration no relationship with the pred scissor and didn't have a good sense of what was happening in the administration he was part of. enough at least the information was only 30 days.
so, tyler, as he subverts the whig agenda with the veto are of two national banks get ex-communicated from the whig party. so henry clay leads the charge to kick john tyler out of the party so john tyler, the first accidental president, becomes the president without a party. he like all accidental presidents becomes obsessed with the idea of i'm determined not to be an accident. need to win election in my own right. so the only path for him to win the eplex in 184 4 , since he can't run as a whig and the democrats don't want him because they're mad as running him as whig but they have to annex texas. so looking at the impulsive and erratic behavior of our current approximate, i remind you john tyler decide tedesco virtually annex texas which precip tated war with mexico and brought is closer to the civil war. going back to the vacancy in the vice-presidency, this is important because on
february 28, 1844, john tyler is sailing on the o'tomac on the uss princeton and a gala on the nautical wonder designed to celebrate american naval prowess and the fact he was on the verge of texas' annexation. they fire of the state of the art gun cause pausemaker going by mt. vernon and the gun explodes, kills the secretary of state, the secretary of the navy, multiple ambassadors and ministers, kills john tyler's favorite slave whose more was compensatessed $200. kill as number of senators senaa members of congress and would have killed john tyler had he not been downstairs flirting with a woman who was have his age but who was more interested in the captains son. so as they heard the explosion che came up to the deck and her name was julia gardner, and she saw that among the dead was her father. new york state senator. laying on the ground she faints
into john tyler's arms. he picks her up, carries her down the gangplank. she wake up and doesn't realize it's the president carrying her and you read about this in a letter that she later writes, john tyler writes had she knock them off the gangplank too they would have died sew almost died a second time. and he marries her and they have eight children with her on tom over the seven he had, and john tyler been during the administration of george washington has two grandsons still alive. child 15 fathered a child in his 7s and that child fathered two children in his 70s, who are now in their mid-and late 90s so that's the israel of john tyler's offspring. fun fact, use it at a cocktail party. had tyler died in that explosion or had he died falling off the gangplank, the nation's first accidental president would have been dead. believe strongly the tyler precedent which was already
controversial, and already hotly contested, would have been very unlikely to hold. mill arizona fill fillmore, an dry johnson, chester arthur, teddy involved, calvin cool usage, harry truman and lyndon johnson could have ascended to the role offing president instead of president. that's the story of the first accidental president and what happened. now, what i want to do is juxtapose what i think is the biggest catastrophe with what if think is the biggest success story of an accidental president. i'm almost tempted to say despite the fact that we more or less winged presidential succession, and despite the fact that the founding fathers gave us a guide but nothing close a blueprint, i'm tempted to save we navigated through pretty well and got pretty lucky. it's a remarkable story and i can almost say that except for the fact that when abraham lincoln died we got andrew johnson and were suppose to get
lincoln's vision of reconstruction, instead the bullet of john wilkes booth gives us andrew johnson, man born a racistest died a racist, the last president tone orr enenslave, didn't emancipate his slaves until seven months later and a man as president resurrect almost every old almost of the con fed was circumstance paving way the at the black codes and the jim crow laws and gave is segregation. if i look at the story of civil rights and post-civil war america to me it can be described in some respects as to story of two presidential assassinations lynn beginning with abraham lincoln anding with james garfield. so, when i set tout write the chapter about lincoln and andre afternoonson you think what can i write that all the great scholars have not written about. i decided what i wanted to do is vindicated the one stain on
lincoln's record which is putting andrew johnson a heartbeat away from the president. the president didn't choose the running mate but such an important moment and lincoln was so certain he would lose in 1864, that he engage inside a massive intrigue outside of his circle to move hannibal hamlin off the ticket and replace him with andrew johnson. now, if you look at who andrew johnson was in 1864 versus later at president, it's a remarkable contrast and you feel some degree of empathy for lincoln having made such a bad addition but a andrew johnson at the time -- he was the poorest men ever to rise to president si, owed everything he had to the union and despite his racist extentment and his beliefs he cared more but the union than anything else. so, when the first shots were fired on fort sumpter, all he cared about was breaking the con fed confederacy and the best we to punch every trader in brutal
fashion and to force civil rights upon them. so, johnson is the only southern senator to stay loyal to the union. he gives up a bomb proof seats in the senate to take dangerous job as military governor of tess guess in 1864 his rhetoric on civil right is more forward leaning than even abraham lincoln him rest rick on pun inickment of extra -- he is so fielder by the south because he seemed like such a radical republic aside from being a border contribution, the south irmore tired buts the idea of an dry johnson as president than abraham lincoln and when jefferson davis is accused open lots offing to kill abraham lincoln he reminds people that would be insane because anybody who hears or hiss to be andrew johnson knows that would be a far worse situation for the south. now, andrew johnson has the wore debut of any vice president. completely hammered while being
sworn in and giving his inaugural address remember he. he is supposed to speak for 30 second and then be sworn innings i in concern it's a 17 minute drunken tirade in which he ritz size the cabinet and pauses when hey can't remember the name of the secretary of the navy. poor lincoln's head is buried in his hands in shame and then he proceeds to slobber all over the bible and to drunk to swear in the new senators so he asks some poor intern to do it. and i'm not sure legally you can do that. so then abraham lincoln walks side by side with hill outside right before lincoln gives arguably one of the best speeches of his career and lincoln opinion otherwise frederick doug losses and has describe --logue has describes a man's eyes glazed over, stumbling with hatreds and he is describing a drunk person but doesn't realize that andrew
jobson is drunk but draws that man is no friend of my race and we should thank the heavens is not president of the united states. six weeks later lincoln is killed and andrew johnson becomes president and his views are not transformed when he becomes presidents. himself views transform when the civil wars over. and all of a sudden the best thing from his perspective for the union is to get the southern elected officials reintegrated back into congress and let the states dealing with civil rights and. what is interesting is he is a mott to kill not just lincoln put johnson, sowards and others. the first time the cabinets sees andrew johnson after the drunken tirade enu.s. when he shows up feeter sewn house and told be a cabinet anybody he is making mary todd lincolnuncomfortable and needs to leech ashe nobodies
lincoln will be died and johnson is but to become president but he was making the first lady undidn'table and was asked to leave. the reason i say it's the story twofer assassinations it's not until the controversial election of 1876 you have an to end reconstruction. so that's when you really start to get jim crow and some of the active segregation laws. then fast forward to the republican convention of 16880 and a duel between ulysses grant for a third time and james blaine and all the delegates get tired and someone shouts out james garfield's name on the 32nd ballot. garfield there is as the campaign chief, and there's momentum that builds for gar field and egets the nomination and jumps up on stage and situation i protest. how can you give the nation to a man whos does not seek it? gets he has thrown on the ticket
a man who embodies the spoil system, chester arthur, but garfield was a man who is completely detached from party politics, who made a pledge -- he was born in a log cabin, had runaway slaves as a chides and his big issues were universal education and suffrage and an to end the spoil system and the creation of a moder civil service and we are supposed to get that vision but four months later he is shot by an offers seeker who had met with chester arthur who writes in his letter of declaration that he killed garfield so that arthur could be president and expect told be rewarded as counsel general in paris, and obviously that didn't happen. arthur ends up having a somewhat respectable presidency in part because mentally ill only on the upper east side of man hat tan starter snail mail trolling him with long letters telling him how loathesome he was.
she described him in manners -- eerily reminiscent of the worst characters court of king henry 8th but kept telling him there's still hope and he shows up at her house and we know as early also 1881 that you control the president, and the president might show up at your house. you troll the president and at the prod my show up. the meeting has a impact on him. the man signs the pentodesle ton act which creates the civil service but our their didn't like working. aides used to walk around with a basket of important looking documents because he didn't, and they were embarrass ted tome people he didn't work so they would create a few said of important stuff going on. but he didn't push for the civil rising agents we would have gotten with par garfield. the one who is at the most unexpects the biggest success is harry truman.
in 1944, all the democratic party abuses new that fdr was dying they couldn't fathom the idea of henry wallace ascending to the presidency because they thought he was too liberal or a soviet sympathizer or both but they took a province shall politician from missouri who hadn't thought much but the world, local machine character, and threw him on the tick without thinking whether he could govern or leads but the best shot at making sure wallace was not on the ticket and fdr didn't care as long as whoever was tone own tick with them doesn't prevent him from winning the election. deep down he probably knew he was going to die. i think the question was timeline. i he thought he could power through, win the war, if the war end before his term key resign and be the first secretary general of the united nations. during trumanys 82 days as
volunteer, he meets with fdr twice, doesn't get a single intend generals briefing, doesn't meet a single foreign loader, doesn't know bet the atomic bomb, he's basically out socializing, april 12, 1945, fdr dies and truman inherits the most overwhelming portfolio of crises of any president in hit with less president e preparation. the battle of okinawa is at its height, a fierce military battle. briefed on the manhattan project and has to figure out what to do with this destructive weapon that may or may not work. stalin is reneging on every promise frommal attempt churchill is complexed and don't know where the countries are on a mop. spends several days in the map room getting smart oregon what has been happening with the war. has to deal with the reality that he might have to move a million men from the european theater to asia-pacific theater.
a massive battle between the army and navy and yet he makes some of the most important decision nets history of our republic, decisions that win the war, shape the postwar order and it's a combination of truman stepping up to the job and mean like dean ache sob and george marshal deciding the fate of the world restsen harry truman being successful and there's not enough time or they don't have the luxury of acting on the grief and the shock that harry y truman is ask the and they decide to make him successful. and truman has to listen to them. not all presidents listen. mill arizona fillmore take the office and fires the entire cabinets and then live without cabinets head. our current moment is not the first time we have had a lot of vacancies in cabinet. when they tell truman leave asia and focus on europe, his listened to them. now, we're going to move to
questions shortly but i want to talk about the close calls because to me it's fascinating. i found myself overwhelmingly frustrated writing this book because i don't understand why we didn't get the importance of figuring out presidential succession and never treated if with any degree of seriousness. its takes three presidents to be assassinated for us to decide it's a good idea to protect the president. used to let the white house be overrun with offers seekers and people who may or may not have been mentally ill and anybody had access to president, and to the sten -- even by the time we start to protect the president, we don't really do it professionally. they basically use protection of the president as a patronage opportunity if i was a target i would not won't my buddies from home protecting me. i don't think they would take a bullet for me. but the other thing that frustrated me the very first close doll was james mad dison
who was on his deathed and dolly madison catches wind they're beginning -- he makes a recovery but james madison was instrumental in writing the constitution and nobody bothers to ask him what dipped you mean when you said the same shall dough involve on the vice president. then andrew jackson is shot by man who believes he is the king of england. the gun is touching him so he assumes he has been shots is in shock and a gun at 120,000 chance of fall functioning and then beats the assailants with his cane. now nobody -- the founding fathers were still alive. nobody bothered to ask him, what did they mean by devolve to the president film. time william henry harrison drops dead the lost founding father has been dead for four years and there's nobody to ask.
i could sort of go through close call after close call but i'll tell you just maybe three of my favorite stories. one is just me kind of constitutionally geeking out for a minute. with the constitution said in 1865 when lincoln was assassinated is that if there's double veining and president and vice president, then the president pro tem pre is an acting president and the secretary of state has the constitutional authority to make that happen and call a special election the following november. going back to lincoln shot an draw johnson would have been murdered. and another one -- another part of the lincoln murder conspiracy went in to go kill william sowards the secretary of state. and sowards was in thissed and stabs him. so sowards almost died. then what happens if there's no secretary of state to make the
president pro tem the acting president and call a special election. shocking hill the constitution is clear which then the assistant secretary of state has the authority to do this. who is the assistant secretary of state? it's frederick sowards the son of william sowards whose is bludgeon to death. so, had the lincoln murder conspiracy born fruition you could have had a situation there was no president, vice president, no secretary of state or assistant secretary of state with the constitutional tort to make the president pro tem the acting president or call a special election. and that's not like wild conspiracy theories. that actually almost happened. now, the two most interesting close calls before we go to question and answer, i want to tell you the story of a woman and her purse and saved the new deal. fdr is president-elect, rifes in miami on a ship and gives his first speech as president-elect
a park in miami and sit thing back of a buick in his motorcades, delivers the speech and italian immigrant fires five shiftses and 15 seconds at him. the bull'lls would have hit fdr sent 100-pound woman was standing right next to assailant, saw him pup up his gun, moved her purse over and smacked his gun with enough force to be able to thwart his aim. the bullets killed four people, including the mayor of shuck beau spared fdr's life and saved the new deal. what happens if the president-elect dies in office? interestingly the 20th 20th amendments was ratified nine days before and among other things the 20th amendments sass that if there's a vacancy in the president-elect the vice president eight takes the owing of office on inauguration day and then the last close call is the suicide bomber who nearly called jfk as president-elect. he remember kennedy's
assassination but how many of you know he was nearly killed by a suicide bomber before he tooking to the of office? shockingly, none of you. a disgruntled postal worker stuffed his buick with enough dynamite to blow up an entire city block outside of kennedy's home in west palm beach, and ended up -- he caught a glimpse of john john standing right next to kennedy and decided he would do it later. so follows kennedy to church the next day, fills up his pant wiz the same amount of dynamite, is standing four people forgot jfk as president-elect outside with his hand in his pocket and on at the trigger. and had he done that it he would have blown upisms, people in the church but the caught a glimpse of children and decided decidedt another day. so the book is filled with these crazy stories, and you would think that writing a book about eight presidents dying in office and 19 who almost died and you would be left with a feeling of
deep melancholy, but strangely i felt kind of optimistic remember you realize our history is crazy and if you look at our current political moment right now, the book's anchored around the eight abrupt transitions but covers a last vast breadth of american history and you look how nasty congress is today in 1850 a senator pulled a gun on another senator and trial to shoot him. today main main the will tweet at each other or call each oughlies but done get much worse thank that. there was the guy who body slammed somebody. but it doesn't compare to what we saw in the 1850s. told you the example of impulsive live annexing texas. in terms of constitutional crises, if you look at the history of presidential succession, probably one of the most sustained constitutional vulnerabilities that we have had in our republic. so, it's not that i -- i donald look at today with concern but